Archive | grains RSS feed for this section

Mediterranean Chicken and Quinoa

5 May

mediterranean chickenI think the dark is gone…for now.  I had the pleasure of meeting Elizabeth this past Saturday (the Crossfit workout Elizabeth).  She and I are not friends….As I finished the last couple squat cleans of my first round of 21, I was pretty sure that I would not finish this workout, but I huffed and puffed my way over to the rings to start the torturous round of 21 ring dips.  5 squat cleans into my second round of 15, I was positive I would not be able to finish…I thought to myself, “This is crazy!  How can I possible to this?”, yet I kept going.  I realized after getting through 5 more that there was no way I couldn’t finish.  This was not because of me by any means, it was because of all the people around me (who had already finished Elizabeth) who would not allow me to quit.  I mustered through the remainder of my workout to the sound of Jill and Pam cheering me on and finished with a time of 15:10.  This Crossfit community that I have become a part of is like nothing I have ever encountered.  Never have I met a group of people that get as much or more joy and pride out of another person’s success than they do their own.  It’s pretty surreal and I feel so lucky to have found Crossfit Templar.

Ok, on to the recipe.  I made this a couple of nights ago and just had leftovers for lunch.  It’s SO good!

I just recently was introduced to quinoa and have really tried to find ways to incorporate it into some recipes.  I like it because it is a gluten free high protein grain and pretty easy to make.  When I make it, I usually make an entire box of it and save whatever I do not use in my recipe for another use later in the week.  One cup of dry quinoa will yield about 3 cups of cooked, so you get a good amount from one box.  I also cook my quinoa using stock instead of water to give it more flavor.  If you have homemade bone stock, it’s a great option, otherwise and store bought stock will work.

I have to give props to Suzanne, the cook at the child care center I teach preschool at, for giving me the idea for this recipe.  Suzanne does a great job trying to incorporate healthy meals to the menu at my center and tries to expose the children to some foods they may not ever have tried otherwise.  She serves a simplified version of this recipe to the children and it’s one of my favorite lunches.

The recipe calls for feta or parmesan cheese, but again, if you have been strong enough to omit cheese from your diet, feel free to leave it out.

Mediterranean Chicken and Quinoa

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quinoa, uncooked
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 lb cooked chicken, sliced or diced
  • 1 bag of baby spinach
  • 2 cans of fire roasted diced tomatoes with garlic
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • Feta or parmesan cheese

Rinse your quinoa in a strainer for at least 2 minutes. Rinsing the quinoa removes its natural coating, called saponin, which can make it taste bitter or soapy. Although boxed quinoa is often pre-rinsed, it doesn’t hurt to give the seeds an additional rinse.  In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil and add rinsed quinoa.  Dry and toast the quinoa, letting the water evaporate (about one minute).  Add the chicken stock and salt and bring the mixture to a rolling boil.  Reduce heat to medium and add the remaining ingredients.  Cook until spinach is wilted and everything is heated though.  Serve topped with feta or parmesan cheese.

050313_6299

Veggies and the moderation myth

7 Jan

Most people equate carbohydrate dense foods with gluttony. Mention chocolate and biscuits, and most people will mention their waistlines don’t need that. The list is pretty easy to rattle off: pasta, ice cream, cake etc.  We know common sense tells us to avoid such carbohydrates, but that is not their real problem.  Pasta and biscuits, to begin with are not a natural food source any way you look at it. Both are refined and processed foods.

To change the gluttonous attachment we mentally have to carbohydrates means changing what we view as a source of carbohydrates.  Foods like spinach, sweet peppers, tomato sauce and kale all have carbohydrates.  Vegetables are a dietary source of carbohydrates that not only fill you up but provide you with big allotment of micronutrients to add to your body’s bank account of vitamins and minerals. Such foods are very difficult to overeat simply because nature provides you with foods to eat, not gorge on so they are going to be self limiting. Try to overeat kale or broccoli tomorrow, it cannot be done without some incredibly uncomfortable side effects, at which point you are obviously not listening to the signals your body is sending.

Eating a colorful salad with spinach, sautéed skirt steak, peppers, and carrots is going to leave you satisfied from good nutrition, the crunch of fresh vegetables, taste from spices and herbs, fiber and fat to enhance digestion…but, it will never taste like a bowl of ice cream. There’s no illusion there. Learning to feel your body’s response to nutritious food is very important however, and that response will be had after such a meal. Satisfaction is feeling good mentally and physically about the food you eat feeling confident it will carry over for a long period of time. Eating in a way that leaves you feeling genuinely well and energetic will always be superior to feeding the  mental addiction and taste of overly flavor enhanced food.

It is ironic when people question where fiber comes from with when processed grains are reduced as a result of eating more whole foods. Vegetables believe it or not are chock full of fiber calorie for calorie and ounce for ounce. There is a reason you use the bathroom after eating a salad heavy meal… fiber.  Clearly I am having a little fun here  but often people do know fruit and vegetables have fiber and still make the shocking assumption that somehow it is lacking. The nutrient density of vegetables also provide lasting satisfaction.  When you eat a diet that consists of mostly vegetables and protein you are full a lot, so the temptation to overeat is much less. Becoming full happens because you give the body what it wants and needs so little room is left for mental temptations and cravings.

“But I don’t like vegetables”

So, if you are reading this you are probably an adult so let’s quit acting like a child.  Every family can have occasional candy or sweets, but access in the house to such foods is unnecessary. Leaving the house to go as a family to enjoy an ice cream cone is different than the nightly 3 sleeves of Oreo’s while sitting on the couch watching TV shows.  If you ‘need’ something sweet have an apple. Add some nuts with the apple to make it go further and last longer.  The whole family should have confidence in being able to eat anything in the house they want because all the food provided should be healthy – there are no ‘bad foods’ ‘cheat foods’ or foods off-hands.  At every meal you should try and have a vegetable, and it doesn’t always have to be the ‘best’ vegetable. Eating spinach and collard greens is not necessary every day.  More often than not though, you will get the best bang for the buck with common hearty vegetables.  Besides if you want to have ice cream it’s just best to have it after having a big nutritious meal, that way the likelihood and tendency to overeat is reduced.

Starches

The long and short of starches is that they are higher in calories than in nutrition.  Even the few considered to be good for you like sweet potatoes and squash do not offer a wide variety of nutrients.  Starches that are good for you tend to be good for you because of the vitamins they have.  Most of those vitamins you can get from foods besides starch and will usually accompany many more minerals.  In the case of athletes starches can be a very valuable tool and we will talk more about that in a later chapter.

The case for Pasta

I love Bolognese and while I could certainly eat it with no pasta it is just better with it.  So that is how I eat it.  The difference between the way I eat it and the way that others eat it is the difference between being lean and not.  For instance, there is a local joint that serves adequate portion sizes, meaning small and worth every bite- think French cuisine, fantastic but allowing for only a few bites.  When choosing to eat for mental satisfaction, like pasta and similar empty foods, going for quality is superior to quantity. There is no point in eating empty food for size. A restaurant is a good place to allow for a treat- you get a serving and there is no going back for seconds, thirds…and then a binge.

An appetizer with meat or salad of some sort makes for less room to attempt to meet all your satisfaction with an empty food course, like my favorite pasta Bolognese.  Of course it is more expensive, but I could have eaten at home for cheaper so I am not going to use eating out as an excuse for eating bad.  Another strategy might be to have a steak with the pasta. Don’t be above ordering two entrees, not only will the waiter love you, you’ll allow less stomach room to be spent on junk. As a normal size guy I eat pretty big, so it’s always amusing to order 2 entrées.  I am pretty active and getting most of my food  from real natural sources allows me to eat more due to the efficient processing of my metabolism. My body is in tune to expecting good food and is ready to put it to use.

Moderation?

Do not get twisted what is being said with ‘moderation is key.’  The point is your waistline will expand when you do not provide an environment of nutrient dense foods.

Moderation looks like for a lot of people:

Breakfast: Lowfat Yogurt (carb) and Oatmeal (carb) with some fruit (carb)

Mid morning snack: Kashi Bar

Lunch: Subway 6 inch turkey (low fat everything with some spinach instead of lettuce because Jared lost weight this way) with baked chips

Dinner: Chicken Breast, Brown Rice and Broccoli

See how this person is left gutting it out from lunch to dinner having provided no long lasting source of dietary fat. This will leave an individual ready to eat his arm off and by dinnertime appear to be a possessed raving lunatic. This is a good set up for failure.  So the answer is not eating less of the foods you might be eating now, the answer more likely is replacing those foods with more whole unprocessed foods and eating those foods occasionally.

Oprah once told her audience not to have a single grape after 6pm so they listen, after all, she is Oprah (this example was me). Actually the original advice came from Bob Green (because who should take advice from Oprah…but that Bob Green guy seemed fit).  By 11 pm I was straight starving and choking down Melatonin, known for drowsiness, just to get to bed. Of course I usually awoke around 3am with a rumbling and furious stomach.

Following the bad diet day example and notorious night hunger, it should be obvious that regardless of what you’re eating, if you’re not eating enough you’re going to be hungry. No one should go hungry; it is the worst slap-you-in-the-back way to lose weight because it will always result in the opposite effect once you are fed up with a loud noisy stomach as your body eats away all your muscle. While sending insulin through the roof and crashing down hard is unhealthy, it is not nearly as deterring to mental well being and enjoyment in life as starving all the time. If you believe going hungry is the only way to lose weight, then you are reading the wrong book.

How Moderation Looks now

On Monday’s as a family we have ice cream.

There will be multiple examples of the meals forthcoming, but needless to say I am not dieting.  Food is a big priority in my life as well as my family’s- food has been and will always be social.  I not only enjoy cooking and eating it but I love how it fuels my body.  The majority of the time I eat things that churn the machine. In the instances where I have a treat it is not excessive because I know the results- the ill stomach, the bloat and the loss of energy all for a measly minute of tasting something my tongue wants to taste. Excessive overeating makes you sick- it is really as bad a feeling as under eating. Listening to your body and its reaction to food should be front and center when finding a way of fueling your body that will work for you, forever.

The Take Home

Although all fruits and vegetables likely contribute to offer variety in nutrients, green leafy vegetables such as spinach, Swiss chard, collards and mustard greens are superior. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and kale and excellent and citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit all contribute to overall health in a positive way.

Vegetables and fruits are clearly an important part of everyday health. Almost everyone can benefit from eating more of them, but variety and color is as important as quantity. No single fruit or vegetable provides all of the nutrients you need to be healthy. From cancer, vision and gastrointestinal health to blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and skin aging, your carbohydrate intake should always be based around a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables- an no worries, you will get plenty of fiber this way. Experiment and try new dishes, exotic fruits and seasonal vegetables- you may surprise yourself!


Malnourished With Cravings: Lessons Every Crossfitter Should Know

31 Dec

Nutrients

This is the first chapter of the “Foundations” PDF that science lab members get.  The “Science Lab” is a service I offer Crossfitters that are looking to reach their body composition goals.  The classes work in a similar fashion to the way Crossfit WOD’s work, they are scheduled and our coaches walk you through what you need to do to achieve your optimal physique.  It is free for most people buy simply purchasing items through our links on this site.  For a list of our free options click here.  

I:  Malnourishment and Why a Lack of Nutrients is the Real Problem

(Click here to jump to a summary of this article)

            What would you say if I told you that diets have it backwards; what if eating less was actually preventing you from losing weight and attaining your goals?  What if the solution was not to eat less, but to eat more, and better?  It may not make sense at first, judging from the prevalence of obesity in the United States and other developed nations, but most of us live in a state of malnourishment; we eat too much of the wrong kinds of food and we’re just not getting enough of the right nutrients to function optimally or lose weight.  This is the main reason our bodies send us confusing, nonsensical signals.  When we eat a balanced diet composed of wholesome, nutrient dense foods (foods rich in vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients) we give our body what it needs and we are no longer hungry; we’re no longer a slave to cravings.  But the body’s needs are ever changing – hour to hour and week to week.  Eating the same food day in and day out at the same caloric intake sets your body up for deficiencies. You just can’t supply everything you need with 5 foods, even if they are the most healthful foods in the world.

Nourishment is of course not the reality for most people because their diets are full of nutrient deficient foods.  Instead of eating less, your new goal should be to eat in a manner that adds more to the body system than it takes away and helps balance your hormones naturally.  Eating a bowl of cereal which touts ‘100%’ the daily value of a rack of vitamins and minerals is all great in theory, except for the fact that your body can’t absorb and put use to all that synthetically engineered ‘nutrition’.  Thus, you are left off worse than you started; this is where diets get it all wrong.  The term “dieting” implies a level of restriction, and for anyone that has a teenager out there, you know that when you restrict someone from anything the consequences tend to be fairly catastrophic.

Cravings

Cravings are a normal response; when you cut out foods from your nutrition that you’ve developed a mental attachment to, you’ll miss them in the same way you’d miss a friend.  On top of that, the foods you eat, no matter how processed, are still supplying your body with energy that it needs.  Over time, they have literally become a part of your physiology, and when they’re gone, it’s as though a piece of you is missing.  There are, however, alternatives to many of the foods we crave that will give us the nutrition we need without all of the chemicals, additives and guilt.  Before we go any further and discuss how you can put this into action, we need to talk about some of the habits that make cravings worse.  Here are a few messages drilled in our heads:

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!”

“Your body runs on sugar, so make sure you eat a lot of it all the time!

“Just get something in your stomach and get that metabolism going!”

“Look, if you’re serious about losing weight, the rules are simple.  A whole grain breakfast is necessary.

We’ve all been told over and over again about breakfast and all its perks.  Part of this is true; eating breakfast can be a great way to kick off your day, but it doesn’t have to happen immediately after you wake up.  Even more of a problem is that in the absence of a nutritionist who designs a meal plan for you (Actually, a lot of nutritionists preach this crap.), we go for the “ready now”, pre-packaged convenience foods.  Really, who has time these days?  A cinnamon raisin bagel topped with low fat double whipped cream cheese and black coffee was my go-to, “choke-it-down”, quick and easy breakfast. Heck, if the bagel has some heart healthy whole wheat in it, it’s a win-win scenario, a healthy “breakfast of champions.”  I would typically eat this around 6 a.m.  By 8:00, I was usually headed face-first into a bowl of oatmeal because the bagel didn’t sate my appetite; I was ravenous.  In fact, I was usually so hungry that I had to have two packets of oatmeal.  It’s a good thing oatmeal is full of fiber, because already the calories are starting to sort of pile up (if only I knew what I know…) and it’s only half past eight!  I would spend the rest of the morning figuring out how to eat a light, low calorie lunch.  This double breakfast, “bottomless-pit-of-a-stomach” was the story of my life (or at least my mornings) for years.  I was no daily gym junkie either, because ya know, “Who has the time or energy for that!?”  I was already preoccupied with tallying off a light lunch after downing two breakfasts!  It was all a big mental game.

If this scenario sounds familiar to you, then we have a lot to talk about, but first I want to clear this up:  the aim of this blog is not to preach; my experience may not match up with yours and you’re going to have to figure a lot of this out for yourself (With my help of course!).  Think of it as though you’re being taught to fish, rather than having somebody fish for you.  There is no “best” way to eat for all people; in fact, the point of this collection of texts is to highlight that nutrient-dense, whole foods should make up the base of nutrition for everyone, from sedentary people to high-level athletes.  No matter what your lifestyle, when you give your body what it needs and leave out the junk, you are less susceptible to cravings and you’ll be able to listen to the messages your body is sending you.  I’m a fairly athletic guy, so my body demands a bit more from me than yours might.

Here’s what my breakfast looks like nowadays.  It’s important to note that I eat breakfast around noon rather than shoveling food into my mouth at 8 a.m.:

10 ounces of grass-fed rib eye in a little clarified butter and sea salt

4 fresh eggs

A raw kale and spinach salad with carrots and peppers, chopped macadamia nuts and a little olive oil

Can you see the difference between this first meal and the bagel and oatmeal from above? This meal provides real foods packed with real nutrients.  A meal such as this carries a high degree of satiety; it leaves me feeling full and energetic.  It gives me the ability to tackle the day without worrying about being hungry. If you are eating the bagel and oatmeal combo like I was, you are not providing your body with the quality and composition of fuel it needs to get going.   It’s akin to putting regular unleaded in a car that runs on super; the engine is going to go through hell.  This is not an ode to a “Grass-fed Rib Eye Revolution Breakfast”.  It’s just my experience.  Your scenario may be completely different, but regardless of our differences, we all have the same basic requirement for nutrient-dense foods that provide us with energy and a sense of well-being.  Many of those diet ‘rules’ you have heard and believe are just wrong. Small tweaks, like switching out the convenient, pre-made food for real, satisfying meals make a big difference.

I meet and talk with people every single day, and I can confidently say that I believe, by-and-large, that most folks are trying to do the right thing.  People do care what they put into their body and would gladly eat steak and eggs with a spinach salad for breakfast if they only knew that it was okay.  In terms of bang-for-your-buck, spinach and eggs won’t render dramatic weight loss like caloric restriction will, which is why Charles Barkley can sell you Weight Watchers, but your natural instincts get ignored.  Product marketing and convenience play a big role in how we eat and quick fixes are extremely attractive, especially when a celebrity is telling us how well it all works.  As someone who lost sixty pounds in one year, I completely understand the motivation to lose weight as fast as possible, but if I had to do it all over again it would be a whole lot easier if I’d just listened to my body.

Why Caloric Restriction is The Wrong Approach

Let me make sure I’m clear:  if you eat in an unrestricted way without respect for food choices, the consequences are obvious; you will get fat and you’ll feel like crap.  This is an adult conversation where I assume you will keep practicality and individual experience in mind.  Also, I am not suggesting that you might not at some point consider a deficit strategy that specifically targets fat, but calorie restriction alone often wastes as much muscle as it does fat.  Since muscle is important as it relates to staying alive and looking good (even for women), it’s kind of a big deal.  Since most of us embark upon diets to improve our appearance as much as our health, calorie deprivation is full of holes.  Let’s go over the scenario I talked about earlier and examine how it relates to a calorie counting scheme.

In the first scenario, I presented a standard breakfast from before I learned what I was doing. These choices took more from my body than they provided; they were “empty calories.”  You could really make a case against every single thing I ate, even the coffee. (By the way I love coffee and I have some thoughts that I will get to later; it might surprise you how much coffee I drink.).  Eating the typical low calorie “diet foods” and follow the standard suggestion of gobbling all these tiny little meals left me engaged  in a battle royale against my body’s hunger signals.  I was keeping my metabolism “stoked”, just to lose a pound!  Clearly the violent cravings were an indicator of my success.  Or not!  Let’s be clear about this:  no matter how many times you eat, your metabolism will only burn through as many calories as it needs to.  There are cases that can be made for both sides of the argument, so rest assured; if you want to eat 18 meals a day, by utilizing the knowledge I provide you with, you will be giving your body with what it needs.  That is the secret.  No shortcuts, no bullshit.

Cravings and hunger are a good sign that you are stressing your body out.  I do not know about most of you, but I have enough things stressing me out; I do not need to add food restriction or mental images of dancing cupcakes taunting me onto that list.  When your body is stressed, it breaks down muscle for energy at an accelerated rate.  This leads to poor muscle tone or your typical ‘skinny fat’ appearance.  What we eat aids in the repair of our body from the wear and tear we put it through on a daily basis.  Mental stress is just as damaging to your body as physical stress is, leading to even more hunger. Additionally, when you do not provide your body with the nutrients it’s clearly signaling for, you’re left with lethargy and fatigue.  But that’s fine, right?  That’s when you grab a 5 hour energy or another coffee like you’ve always done!  Those are stimulants, and using them to make up for a lack of food is one of the worst ideas that we commonly put into practice. The nature of these “perk-me-ups” is to stress the body for a specific result; it is like pouring gas on a fire.  Stress hormones run rampant and while you do get the energy they promised, a lot of it comes from muscle.

Remember this all started because you did not provide your body with what it wanted and one of two things are going to happen come nighttime:  you are either going to negate whatever potential weight loss you could have achieved through calorie restriction and binge, or you’ll gut it out and go to bed starving (which isn’t favorable as far as maintain muscle mass goes).  If you tough it out, well…Good luck sleeping that night.  This is no way to go on, but this is the standard prescription we’re offered by the media and the mainstream weight loss industry.

Weight Watchers or calorie counting is a tool; it’s not inherently evil.  Later in the blog, we’ll go over some calorie counting strategies that can set you on the right track if you use them correctly.  No, the tool isn’t to blame; the way it’s used, however, ignores what your body is saying by trying to fit a lot of pieces into the puzzle that just don’t line up.  Said another way, “No matter how few nachos you eat, it’s still not as effective as eating a nutrient dense salad.”  You need to acknowledge and react to your body’s signals. That is why broccoli is a low point Weight Watchers food, and worked well until food manufacturers got wind of the diet and decided to capitalize with “one point” pastries and candy. This is essentially what all calorie restriction systems are; they allow you to disregard the natural signals your body gives you so you can “fit in” junk food.  Now, I’m not saying you can’t have some junk food here and there.  You can eat beer and nachos as long as you understand what it does to your body.  My goal is to educate you so that you can get to a point where you’re eating right 80% of the time and that you understand some of the science, so beer or nachos can be guilt free.  I want you to come full circle, from relying upon these foods, to enjoying them in context with your healthy nutrition plan.

What if there were no bad foods?

Ask yourself this question:  “If you did not place judgments upon food as either bad or good, how would that change your perspective as it relates to food choices?  Would your life be more difficult, or easy?”  I have been ragging on oatmeal a bit, partly because it is considered to be a food that is “good for you”, and therefore “safe” to eat.  Conversely everyone knows ice cream is “bad for you”, so it’s one of the first things they tend to drop when they start changing their nutrition.  I want you to try and look at all foods with a level of scrutiny, but our goal is lose the attributions of “bad” or “good”.  Food is not inherently good or bad for you; it’s how you apply it to your individual lifestyle that renders either a favorable or undesirable result.  Those kinds of judgments don’t take you into context, and they have no place in the way we’re going to think about foods from now on.  Demonizing food you love leads to bad decisions justified by a misunderstanding of basic principles; you can eat what you want as long as you make sure to eat what you need, and best of all, you can make it work to your advantage.

But What If I’m Not Fat?

For whatever reason, everyone responds differently to food, but in general everybody requires proper nutrients.  If you’re 9% body fat and you want to get 5% body fat, understanding the basics I’ll lay out will help you simplify the process and make your life easier.  Whether fat or skinny, it is important to understand the messages your body is sending you.  Once you know what these signals mean, you will have cracked the code that has baffled you for so long, no matter what your goals are.

Summary

  • Most of us are malnourished; we either eat too much of the wrong foods, or too little of the right ones.  Both scenarios lead to dysfunction
  • Cravings are a normal response when you remove foods from your diet.  Getting the timing, composition, and size of your meals right is more important than restricting your caloric intake.
  • Calorie restriction without regard for the composition of the food you eat (carbs, fat, and protein) results in unmitigated weight loss of bone, muscle and fat.  The resultant outcome is a reduced quality of life.
  • You can eat healthy and still have your favorite foods.  There are no bad foods.
  • A balanced, flexible approach to nutrition can benefit anyone, from sedentary individuals to athletes.  There’s no need to drive yourself crazy to maintain health and a lean body composition.